Although Allen Tate earned his literary reputation as a poet, the majority of his published works are prose. He is well known as an essayist, having published nine books of essays and contributed essays to a number of anthologies, including the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand (1930). His other nonfiction works include two biographies, Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier (1928) and Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall (1929). He also published a critically acclaimed novel, The Fathers (1938), set during the Civil War. Tate also worked as an editor and a translator, editing poetry anthologies and other literary works and translating some of the works of Charles Baudelaire and various classical poets. Each of these works demonstrates at least one of Tate’s three major concerns: poetry, history, and the state of modern culture.
Much of Allen Tate’s popular reputation as a poet rests on a single poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” written before he was twenty-six years old. It brought its author considerable fame both in the United States and abroad, but unfortunately it “typecast” him. Tate later wrote poems that were perhaps better and certainly ideologically different, but he was and still is so strongly identified with that work that his later poetry was for the most part neglected.
If the public saw him as a one-poem poet, however, he fared better at the hands of critics. He received a number of honors, including many honorary degrees; perhaps his most outstanding award was the National Medal for Literature in 1976. He also received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1948, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1957, the Brandeis University Medal for Poetry in 1961, the Gold Medal of the Dante Society of Florence in 1962, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1963, and the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry in 1978 for Collected Poems, 1919-1976. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1949 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965. He served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (poet laureate) from 1943 to 1944. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1949 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1966 to 1979.
Tate was one of the most widely known of the Agrarian/Fugitive poets. While some of his themes, techniques, and concerns were similar to those of his southern colleagues, unlike some of them, he was not labeled (and subsequently dismissed as) a “regional” poet. Tate was as popular and as comfortable in the literary circles of New York and Europe as he was in that of his Vanderbilt associates, and his poetry demonstrates that southern concerns are universal concerns as well.
Bishop, Ferman. Allen Tate. New York: Twayne, 1967. Though composed while Tate was still writing, Bishop’s book offers a good survey of his life and work up to that point; Tate’s final years did not change much. Includes chronology, detailed notes and references, and select bibliography.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Allen Tate. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. This collection of essays contains a brief biography as well as critical analysis of “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” “The Mediterranean,” “The Swimmers,” and “Aeneas at Washington.”
Brooks, Cleanth, and Allen Tate. Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate: Collected Letters, 1933-1976. Edited by Alphonse Vinh. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998. A selection of letters that constitute a feisty and enjoyable account of the history of two leading participants in the literary critical wars during an era when the way to read and to teach poetry in the English language was being profoundly recast.
Dupree, Robert S. Allen Tate and the Augustinian Imagination: A Study of the Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. Dupree has accomplished here a thorough traversal of Tate’s poetry, but he does confine his attention to the poetry. His approach is methodical and comprehensive, disclosing ingenious insights. Includes an...
(The entire section is 517 words.)